Peaceful Kenyan People Power

Peaceful Kenyan People Power

protesThe coalition government in Kenya was fraying at the seams last week, but a large public demonstration may have stitched it back together.

Wednesday several thousand protesters took to the streets of Nairobi in what many of us feared would be the end of the “Grand Coalition” which has held Kenya together in a fragile alliance since the terrible civil turbulence of early 2008.

How wrong we were.

The police actually protected demonstrators, they didn’t incite them as Nairobi police most often do. The protesters were a major mix of ethnic groups, not just Kikuyu or Luo. They marched through town and even shouted outside the President’s office.

And hardly disturbed the traffic in the city.

After tremendous media coverage, and politicians running to the microphones to lend their support, President Kibaki drew down his latest incendiary move. He agreed to the effective suspension of two ministers in the government which had been ordered by his rival and partner in government, Prime Minister Odinga.

I think this bodes very well for Kenya, but we’re still at an extremely fragile moment. I also think the events of the last several weeks have defined the good man and the bad man. The good man is Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The bad man is President Mwai Kibaki.

Kenyans have moved foward with deliberate and hopeful speed a new constitution which must be put in place before the election cycle for 2012 begins next year. As the details of the compromise began to leak last week, a rift opened up between these two power-sharing behemoths.

As the proposed constitution now stands, it is likely that the cause of the last dispute – the extremely close and fraudulent election between Odinga and Kibaki, could occur all over, again. Previously it was widely hoped that Kibaki would not stand for re-election, or effectively would not attract enough support in the way the electoral process would be implemented.

That changed, corruption in the government (which is endemic on both sides) exploded in the local media with regards to funds for schools and misappropriation of grain stockpiles. Neither is a new issue, but both gained new traction because the “bad guys” are all in the president’s camp.

And in the ever present background are the international trials set to begin momentarily in The Hague against yet to be named government officials accused of crimes against humanity in the violence of 2008.

It all came to a head last week when the Prime Minister suspended two of the ministers (both in the president’s party) pending resolution of corruption charges against them.

Over the weekend the President revoked the Prime Minister’s suspensions.

Monday, the Prime Minister appealed to Kofi Annan, who orchestrated the Grand Coalition in 2008, to return to the country to resolve the dispute.

Tuesday, the people took the streets.

And it was peaceful.

And it worked!

Wednesday, the President agreed that all responsibilities in the offices of the ministers who the Prime Minister suspended would be taken over by their permanent secretaries. An effective suspension.

Peace? Working in Kenya? Congratulations, Kenyan people power!

We’ll have to see where it goes from here. But so far, so good.